Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

[4 stars] [IMDB Link] [Weird: The Al Yankovic Story]

I loved Weird Al's "I Lost on Jeopardy". Unfortunately it didn't make the cut to be included in this biopic. Still, I had a good time watching this free-to-me-with-ads streamer on the Roku Channel.

To be clear, Al was heavily involved in the production of this movie. Hence it is not actually a biopic, it's a parody of a biopic. What did I expect? It stars Daniel Radcliffe as Al. (I think I've seen him in some other movies.) Also appearing is Evan Rachel Wood, as Madonna, with whom Al has a torrid but doomed love affair…

Oops, got ahead of myself there. Before that happens, there are also the classic tropes: Al's realization of his mission in life; parental opposition; his big break into show biz; the adulation of millions; the "you've changed, man!" descent into drunken egomania; the unfortunate fandom of a drug lord. You've seen this story dozens of times.

I have no idea if people without a Roku can see this.

Ambulance

[3.5 stars] [IMDB Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

A Michael Bay movie! Hadn't seen one of those in a while. It was a free-to-me streamer on Amazon Prime. Compared to other Michael Bay movies, it's relatively explosion-free, although it makes up for that with a two-hour chase scene, with approximately 748 crashing vehicles.

I exaggerate, but not by much.

We have two brothers: Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is the one trying to go straight but having a tough time with medical bills; Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the other, doing shady stuff, getting ready to pull off One Last Big Score. Danny ropes in Will to drive the getaway. That goes wrong, of course. And they wind up in … one of those large vehicles with flashing lights. And also a couple hostages: Cam (Eiza González), a beautiful and gifted EMT, and Zach, a cop seriously wounded in the heist. And so the chase commences.

There's a lot of spectacular action and (to my eyes) pretty good acting. And where have I seen that guy before? Oh, right, he was a very menacing bad guy on Justified!

Iron Sky

[2.5 stars] [IMDB Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Since I read Robert Heinlein's Rocket Ship Galileo recently, it put me in the mood for… Moon Nazis! And this 2012 movie is solidly in that genre.

It's set in the (then) near future of 2018, and the POTUS (a Sarah Palin type) has hit on a reelection gimmick: send an African-American on a mission to return to the Moon. Complete with ad banners on the lunar lander: "Black to the Moon!".

Sometimes the distance between satire and reality can be pretty thin.

But the return mission is cut short when one of the astronauts discovers a Nazi base hiding on the "dark side of the moon". (I hate that term.) And he's promptly shot in the head. The other guy, James Washington, the black guy, is taken prisoner. And he discovers a pretty functional colony, dedicated to developing and deploying the Götterdämmerung secret weapon so the Nazis can fulfill their dream of taking over the Earth. All they need is computing power—like that found in Washington's smartphone.

It's filled with a lot of satire, both heavy-handed and safe. (How brave do you have to be to make fun of Nazis?) The special effects and sets are decent for a small-budget movie. (They didn't spend much on the screenplay or the cast salary.) If you're in the mood for some dumb fun, this isn't bad.

The Lost City

[4.0 stars] [IMDB Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

A free-to-me Amazon Prime streamer. It's a lot of fun if you're in the right mood. And I was in the right mood.

Sandra Bullock plays Loretta, a famous romance novelist with terminal writer's block. Her latest work was particularly painful to finish. But she manages to go on one last book tour, where she shares the stage with "Dash", the hunky model featured shirtfree on her book covers. (That's Channing Tatum.) She's dressed up in purple spangly low-cut garb, which becomes kind of a running joke in the movie.

She's unexpectedly abducted by well-to-do-but-also-insane Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe) who (knowing Loretta's previous life as a student of ancient culture and language) demands that she help him find the fabled "Lost City" where a fantastic jewelled crown is hidden. And "Dash" for some reason puts himself on a mission to rescue her from her abductor.

Lots of comic-flavored action ensues. Brad Pitt is briefly in it as well. Everyone is very funny.

Some snarky Trivia contributor at IMDB did the ungallant math:

Lead actress Sandra Bullock is sixteen years older than lead actor Channing Tatum.

She's 58. But you know what? She's still very good looking.

Thor: Love and Thunder

[3 stars] [IMDB Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

The latest Marvel movie became a free-to-me streamer on Disney+, so I bit. Bottom line: I'm sort of glad I didn't pay to see it in the theater. (By the way, the company that owns our local Regal Cinema megaplex just went bankrupt. Just thought I'd mention that.)

The movie begins with a downer: Gorr, a very pasty humanoid played by Christian Bale, watches his young daughter die as his god ignores his plea for miraculous salvation. And then the god shows up with a luxurious oasis, and mocks Gorr for thinking he gives a rat's ass about him or his daughter. Gorr is righteously pissed, and there's a fortuitous god-slaying sword near at hand, and… well, there's your plot. Gorr acquires the means and motive to go on a god-slaying crusade. Not just his god, but all of 'em, including those comparatively decent Asgardians.

Thor has been hanging out with the Guardians of the Galaxy, and it's nice to see those guys again. But it's clear that their relationship is getting a tad strained. They agree to part ways, and Thor returns to the Earthbound remnants of Asgardian glory, now ensconced in a scenic Norwegian fjord…

Also meanwhile, Thor's ex-girlfriend Jane is dying of cancer. She travels to the previously-mentioned fjord, where the remains of Thor's old weapon, Mjölnir, are being kept as a tourist attraction. Miraculously…

Well, Thor and Jane soon find themselves in a desperate struggle with Gorr and his forces. Epic battles ensue, allies are (unsuccessfully) sought, et cetera.

There's a lot of jokiness involved, somewhat at odds with the girlfriend-cancer and dead-daughter themes. But it's funny, nevertheless. The director/co-writer, Taika Waititi, also wrote/directed Jojo Rabbit, with a similar horror/humor mix. That one worked better for me.

The Gray Man

[4 stars] [IMDB Link] [The Gray Man]

This is a pretty expensive movie to have never been released in theaters. (IMDB backs me up on this.) I swear they shot up, blew up, and burned down a couple European cities some nice mansions, and a big old airplane. I hope they asked permission first.

It has a mediocre IMDB rating as I type, and that's because the plot is only the latest mutation in the boilerplate spy thriller genre: likeable, semi-ethical assassin (Ryan Gosling) becomes targeted by the CIA folks he ostensibly works for. He keeps prevailing despite being vastly outnumbered and outweaponed by his foes. He acquires some unlikely allies along the way, and loses some of them. His primary nemesis is another hitman (Chris Evans), charismatic but psychotic, too dirty for regular government employment, but available for freelance gigs like this.

Oh yeah: throw in a cute kid in danger.

I had fun. The acting (in service of a ludicrous and predictable plot) is first-rate. As noted, the action is amazing and non-stop. Locations are scenic (until they're destroyed). And Ana de Armas is extremely easy on the eyes.

At the end, I noticed that they left plenty of room for a sequel. Then I looked at Amazon and found out (yes, I'm not up on these things) that it's based on a character from a 12-book (so far) series. Yeah, I guess they could do one or two more.

Palm Springs

[4 stars] [IMDB Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I'm (apparently) a sucker for a good time-loop comedy movie starring a Saturday Night Live alumnus. This one isn't Groundhog Day, but what is? I still had a pretty good time. It went straight to Hulu last year. It's not the worst reason to subscribe to Hulu, either; they have other good stuff too.

Andy Samberg plays Nyles; as the movie opens, he's already been in the time loop for a long time, and is accustomed to the rules: he can't die, and breaking out is seemingly impossible. Instead of February in Punxsutawney, though, it's… well, you see the title. And it's a wedding! Nyles rescues Sarah (played by the saucer-eyed Cristin Milioti) from a disastrous reception speech, and they go off to canoodle, and … Nyles gets shot by an arrow aimed by a pissed-off Roy (J. K. Simmons!). For some reason, Nyles runs off to a glowing cave, Sarah follows against his advice, and she gets trapped in the loop as well. And in the next loop iteration, she's pissed off at Nyles too.

I had fun. That's all I ask. I'm pretty sure it wasn't as tightly plotted as Groundhog Day and not quite as funny.

It's slim pickings for comic actors these days, I guess. If you want to get depressed about that, Google is your friend.

Death on the Nile

[3.0 stars] [IMDB Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Mrs. Salad requested this free-to-us streamer (from Hulu). She was unimpressed because she thought it was padded. (Two hours, seven minutes, according to IMDB.) Agreed, and I didn't much care for other things too.

But Gal Gadot is very easy on the eyes. Extra half star for Ms. Gadot. But also: minus half a star for (spoiler) making her the first murder victim.

A brief prequel gives an origin story. Specifically, the origin of Hercule Poirot's impressive mustache: it's to cover up scarring he incurred from a German booby trap in WWI. But after that prequel, we're off to standard Christie-based mayhem: a raft of characters we are (somehow) supposed to keep track of, updating their relationships after secrets are revealed during the flick. Never fear, though: Poirot eventually works out the motive and method, but not before a few more bodies pile up.

There's a lot of scenery. Also scenery-chewing. Fantabulous fashions are worn. One of the reasons the movie is so long is that the camera lingers after each costume appears.

Recommendation: watch Dead Again instead.

Lightyear

[4 stars] [IMDB Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I was somewhat surprised to like this movie quite a bit. The IMDB raters despised it. The reviews I read were brutal. (To be fair, the numbers at Rotten Tomatoes are kinder.) Conservative Tim Allen was rudely shoved aside, replaced by pinko Chris Evans.

I might have been less sympathetic if I'd shelled out movie-theater cash. But it showed up as a free-to-me Disney+ streamer last Tuesday, so…

The setup is that Toy Story's Andy saw this movie back in 1991, which prompted his demand for his Buzz Lightyear action figure, setting off the events of that movie. OK, fine. Buzz is in charge of a colonization mission, responsible for the lives of 1200 or so civilians. He is an I'll-do-it-myself kind of guy, not a team player at all, so when disaster occurs as the ship crashes trying to escape from an aggressively hostile planet, Buzz blames himself.

His efforts to repair the ship and resume his mission involve a considerable amount of relativistic time dilation, as he endeavors to discover just the right mix of fuel elements that will power up the ship again. Along the way, he acquires a robotic cat, and a misfit bunch of helpers. All building up to his inevitable conflict with Zurg. (Big revision from Toy Story 2: Zurg is not Buzz's dad, but…)

OK, so there was some lesbianism involved. Buzz is cool with it, so I was too, although my eyes may have rolled a bit. The "teamwork with a diverse cast" is also heavy-handed, but equally easy to ignore. Bottom line: I had fun.

And, to tell the truth, I couldn't tell the difference between Tim Allen's Buzz voice and Chris Evans'.


Last Modified 2022-08-07 8:16 AM EST

Downton Abbey: A New Era

[3.5 stars] [IMDB Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Mrs. Salad invited Pun Daughter in for dinner and a movie, specifically this one. (Free-to-us on Peacock.) I sighed deeply and said, "Oh, all right, I'll watch it with you." But I suspect they knew I was going to enjoy it too.

Big doin's at the Abbey: (1) a mysterious figure from the Dowager Countess's past has died and left her an opulent villa on the French Riviera, to be (eventually) passed down to young Sibyl, her great-granddaughter. But in the meantime: (2) a British movie company has asked to use the Abbey grounds and interiors to shoot a silent movie, The Gambler. To which the old and staid members of the household say, very Britishly, "Well, I never!". But once Lady Mary shows her dad the array of chamberpots in the attic catching raindrops from the leaky roof… well, the movie company's cash starts looking pretty good, so much for your snooty principles.

Part of the crowd runs off to France to check out the villa, and there's some friction between the Crowleys and the widow. But good manners and legal necessity win out. Robert gets some potentially distressing news about his parentage, and then he's aghast all over again. Could he be … part French? Soccer Blue!

Meanwhile back in Old Blighty, the movie production runs into a snag: it's supposed to be silent, but talkies are clearly ascendant, the studio is about to pull the plug. Before you can say "this subplot was ripped off from Singin' in the Rain", the household gets wangled in to playing a much larger role in the production than they planned. This is hilarious, especially when the downstairs staff get a chance to play dress-up, after being stuck in maid/cook/butler outfits for the past decades.

There's a lot of fan service here, as shameless as any Marvel movie. And I ate it up, just as I do while watching Marvel movies.